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Police have recovered part of a reliquary containing the blood of the late Pope John Paul II that was discarded by thieves who believed it to be worthless, the Italian press reported.
The relic and its container were stolen after thieves broke into a small mountain church east of Rome late last month,sparking a region-wide search with police and sniffer dogs.
Three people detained by Italian police “did not understand the relic's value” and “cannot remember where they threw away the precious loot”, the Italian ANSA news agency said on Thursday, citing the police.
The ornate reliquary, which had been kept in a niche of the small church of San Pietro della Ienca in L’Aquila in the Abruzzo mountains, comprised a metal frame around a fragment of material stained with blood, purportedly taken from the clothing worn by John Paul II after he was shot in the attempt on his life in 1981.
Police on Friday found the piece of cloth, slightly damaged, a day after they found the stolen gold and glass frame.
They told a news conference in L’Aquila that they found the fragment in the garage of two of the three men detained for having stolen the reliquary.
A local news outlet in Abruzzo, PrimaDaNoi.it, said two of those arrested are 23 and 24 years old and are drug addicts known to the police for other petty crimes.
The local bishop told the news conference the recovered piece of fabric was missing just a few filaments of cloth and gold thread.
Giovanni D’Ercole, auxiliary bishop in L’Aquila, added: “I think John Paul has forgiven them. I think we have to do the same.”
Polish-born Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, is to be canonised in May.
The late Pope loved the region’s Apennine mountains and would sometimes slip out of the Vatican secretly to hike or ski there and pray in the church.
The relic was a gift to the local community from his former private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who gave it in 2011 as a token of the love John Paul II had for the area.